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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 98-05-30
From: The Cyprus Mail at <http://www.cynews.com/>
Saturday, May 30, 1998
 Christodoulou faces the musicBy Hamza Hendawi
FINANCE Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou was savagely rebuked yesterday over his grossly miscalculated attempt to push through the House a package of tax increases, a blunder which caused acute political embarrassment to President Glafcos Clerides's coalition government.
Arguably the most influential member of Clerides's 11-man cabinet, the minister was the target of scathing attacks by politicians from all quarters, including his own Disy party -- the senior coalition partner in the Clerides administration.
Christodoulou's handling of the tax increases was also criticised by the influential Chamber of Commerce, an avid supporter of Clerides. It seized the opportunity to repeat its demands for structural changes in the public sector and curbs on its mushrooming payroll.
There was, however, no sign that Christodoulou might resign or be demoted, although analysts expected his name would long be linked with the government's most humiliating defeat on domestic policy and that questions about his political acumen would linger.
Deputies on Thursday night threw out proposals by Christodoulou to raise taxes in order to close a growing fiscal deficit and bring additional revenue to the treasury. The defeat in the house was especially painful for the government since junior coalition partners -- socialist Edek and the United Democrats -- joined the opposition in voting down the proposals.
Deputies from the two parties argued that they had not been adequately consulted in advance and that the draft bill reneged on an election pledge not to raise taxes in 1998.
Their stance left Disy in the embarrassing position of being the lone supporter of the doomed bill. The vote was 17 in favour, 32 against and one abstention.
Christodoulou, however, appeared unperturbed by the political storm raging around him yesterday, and even put on a remarkable display of defiance and bravado.
"I would not want at the present stage to express a view or an opinion regarding political responsibility. But what I can say is that if there is any responsibility as far as my person is concerned, you know very well that I am not the kind to avoid it," he told reporters at the Foreign Ministry, where he is standing in for Yiannakis Cassoulides, who is abroad.
"You cannot be a minister of finance and be pleasant because the job is usually to say 'no'," said Christodoulou, who blamed rejection of the package on what he called an "unexpected development".
Asked whether he thought he still retained the confidence of President Clerides, he said: "I am not the right person to be asked" and declined to say whether Thursday's events presented the governing coalition with a crisis.
Disy stalwart Christodoulou was also criticised by his party chairman Nicos Anastassiades, who said: "There was possibly a need for more consultations with our (coalition) partners, but also... with the opposition. It was possibly an error of judgement."
Thursday's vote, he added, brought to the surface what he called an old problem of communication between Disy and the government, on one hand, and Disy and Christodoulou on the other.
Speaking after a meeting yesterday morning with President Clerides, which was also attended by Christodoulou and Alexis Galanos, chairman of the House's powerful Finance Committee and a government supporter, Anastassiades complained that Disy was called upon by the government to support the proposed taxes but had not been given any details.
Criticism of the handling of the tax package also came from the communist Akel party and socialist Edek, whose deputies lambasted the government in media interviews for what they called misleading statements on the state of the economy made in the run-up to February's presidential election.
Galanos suggested that a consensus on economic policies should be achieved, adding that: "The whole exercise was ill thought out and there should have been more effort to negotiate beforehand."
Christodoulou had publicly stated in recent weeks that he was looking into measures to reduce the fiscal deficit, currently running at five per cent of GDP but estimated to soar to seven per cent of GDP by the end of 1998 if nothing is done to curb its growth.
On Thursday, he submitted to the House a five-part package of tax hikes, four of which were referred to the Finance Committee. The fifth, proposing increases in the price of fuel, cigarettes, duties on the import of second- hand cars and all-terrain vehicles, was thrown out on Thursday night. It was designed to bring the treasury £25.3 million this year and £44.5 million annually thereafter.
The four other parts of the package, according to a government document distributed at the House, proposed an increase in value added tax to 12 per cent from eight per cent and the introduction of five per cent VAT on goods and services which are currently exempt. They also included the reintroduction from July 1999 of a three per cent tax on services offered at establishments certified by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation and the end of duty exemptions enjoyed by some semi-governmental organisations.
Also in the package is a 35 per cent increase effective from January 1999 in charges for vehicle registration and a £5 monthly tax on mobile phones.
If adopted, the measures would have limited the fiscal deficit at 5.00-5.5 per cent of GDP this year, reduced it to 3.5-4.00 per cent in 1999 and to three per cent in 2000.
 RAF man stabbed in DhekeliaBy Charlie Charalambous
A BRITISH serviceman was in a serious but stable condition yesterday after being stabbed in what the military described as an "unprovoked attack".
RAF corporal Christopher Sweeney, 28, underwent emergency surgery at Larnaca General hospital yesterday morning during which part of his intestine was removed.
"We can confirm it was an unprovoked attack on a British serviceman which took place at around midnight on Thursday while he was walking in the Dhekelia base area," said British Forces Cyprus spokesman Captain Jon Brown yesterday. "He received a single puncture wound to the abdomen and consequently received emergency surgery at Larnaca general hospital this morning."
According to the military police investigation, Sweeney was drinking with his brother Martin at the Orange Grove restaurant in Vrysoules shortly before the attack.
Martin eventually went home to his pregnant wife, leaving his brother behind to continue drinking.
Later, as Christopher walked back alone he was jumped on and knifed. He managed to reach his brother's quarters before being discovered in a pool of blood by his pregnant sister-in-law.
"I was walking along when a man came out of nowhere and stabbed me for no reason," Christopher Sweeney told British military police yesterday.
The wounded serviceman is not based in Cyprus but was visiting his brother, also an RAF corporal, who is serving with the British forces on the island.
The assailant and motive for the attack are unknown, but the British bases do not believe a fellow serviceman carried out the assault.
"There is no indication it was a serviceman. We don't know why it happened, " said a bases source.
British military police are investigating the incident with the assistance of the Cyprus police.
The victim is based with the RAF in Germany and comes from Burnley in Lancashire.
 Official complaint lodged over 'spying' incidentBy Charlie Charalambous
THE FOREIGN Ministry yesterday lodged a complaint with the British High Commission over the alleged spying incident involving bases helicopters.
British High Commission officials were summoned to the foreign ministry to explain reports that two British helicopters flew low over a National Guard installation near Zygi, and took photographs.
"The foreign ministry has protested to the British High Commission over the alleged helicopter incident," British High Commission spokesman Piers Cazalet told the Cyprus Mail yesterday.
"We were asked for an explanation and we clarified that no Gazelle-type British helicopters were flying at that time, but two American Blackhawks were doing a routine flight, so there must be some confusion."
Cazalet added that the British High Commission had at various times been given three different dates for the alleged incident -- Saturday night, Sunday morning and Wednesday.
According to government sources, two British helicopters were seen flying over an army installation on Sunday morning; two warning flares were fired, and they flew away.
The British bases repeated yesterday that they had no aircraft out at the time of the alleged incident, 8.40 am last Sunday, but did say that two US blackhawk helicopters had left from Akrotiri that morning.
"Allegations of British helicopters spying and taking photos are just not true," said bases spokesman Captain Jon Brown.
The US helicopters were on a routine flight to supply the American embassy in Beirut via Akrotiri and Larnaca.
"The officer in command of the blackhawk detachment has assured me that nothing unusual happened during that flight and that no flares were fired at his helicopter," said Brown.
However, the fact that the National Guard is claiming the helicopters were Gazelles, which cannot easily be mistaken for the larger Blackhawk, has only added to the mystery.
As one informed military expert told the Cyprus Mail: "If it wasn't the British, then the only other army in Cyprus which has Gazelles is the National Guard itself."
 Officials bid to slash rampant stop listBy Jean Christou
THERE are 50,000 people on the stop list, many of whom should not be there, a top-level Interior Ministry official has revealed.
Permanent Secretary Thanos Michael said a review of the stop list was to be part of a feasibility study that would focus on changing the face of the island's often-hostile immigration services.
Michael, a relative of whom was a recent victim of airport immigration officialdom, said that the stop list should include undesirables with a criminal record or people prevented from entering the island through a court order.
"But there are other people on the stop list as well," Michael said, adding that many of these should not be there.
And he cited people using their influence with immigration officials to have others put on the stop list.
He mentioned as an example cases involving foreign women who have been stopped after complaints from the ex-wives of their Cypriot boyfriends.
"The state should not interfere in personal affairs," Michael said. "This will be one of our major purposes."
He said the proposal was part of an overall plan to replace immigration officials, who are generally police officers, with other public service personnel.
The proposal was approved by the government over five years ago, but nothing has yet been done to implement it, according to Michael
"The matter is with personnel and we expect a feasibility study," he said. "But the response as been slow."
A spokesman for the Cyprus Offshore Enterprises Association (COEA) said things at the immigration department had improved over the past few years, but they could still be better.
"There's no doubt they are in need of updating and improvement in some areas," the spokesman said. "There are still times when you are not sure you are in the right place or talking the right person."
Although he said the immigration department could not be singled out as particularly ineffective, the spokesman said further improvements will be of benefit to offshore personnel, especially when they have to visit the immigration offices to deal with issues like their maids.
"But overall there are no serious problems at all," he said.
 Gay law submitted to Council of EuropeBy Jean Christou
CYPRUS'S amended law decriminalising homosexuality between consenting adults was yesterday presented to the Council of Europe (CoE), in line with its May 29 deadline.
"We informed the Committee of Ministers that the bill had been adopted by parliament and that consequently the case before them be closed," said Cyprus' ambassador to the CoE, Thalia Petridou.
The wording of the new law, designed to appease the opposition of the Church and the anti-gay lobby, has, however, come under fire from the gay community and from international human rights organisations.
The law refers to homosexuality as "unnatural licentiousness", and other vague terms, such as "indecent proposals" or "advertising" by homosexuals, are all punishable by jail terms.
Cyprus is likely to have to justify the text to the CoE Committee of Ministers.
Gay Rights activist Alecos Modinos, whose case prompted the European Court of Human Rights 1993 ruling that homosexuality be decriminalised, said yesterday he had sent his objections in writing to the CoE.
"We hope they will examine it closely and not take it for granted," Modinos said.
But speaking to the Cyprus Mail from Strasbourg, Petridou said that the Director of the CoE's Human Rights Directorate had not mentioned anything negative about the new law.
"He did say 'we have to look seriously into the text of the new law and decide accordingly'," Petridou said, adding, however, that this was a routine procedure.
"We have to provide the text and be prepared to answer any questions on the content."
A CoE meeting to examine the text is not likely to take place before the end of June, Petridou said.
Amnesty International was among those who condemned the wording of the new law as unacceptable and a breach of human rights.
The law was not passed until May 21, after the House had stalled the procedure for five years in the face of Church and public opposition.
 Missiles will arrive, Cassoulides insistsTHE RUSSIAN-MADE S-300 defence missile system will be deployed on the island because the deadlock in the Cyprus problem remains, Foreign Minister Iannakis Cassoulides said yesterday.
"We will deploy the S-300s and let everyone assume their responsibilities," Cassoulides said in an interview with London Greek Radio (LGR), noting that the deadlock in Cyprus continued.
His remarks came as Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov assured his Greek counterpart, Theodoros Pangalos, that the S-300 missiles would be delivered to Cyprus.
Speaking after meeting Primakov in Luxembourg, Pangalos added that Russia would be only too happy to cater to the island's every possible S-300 related technical requirement.
Referring to US envoy Thomas Miller's warning that the situation in Cyprus could get worse before it got better, Cassoulides said the government's policy concerning the S-300s remains unchanged.
The government's stated position is that it will only reconsider its decision to deploy the anti-aircraft missiles if substantial progress is made in efforts to settle the Cyprus problem or if an agrement on demilitarisation of the island is reached.
Asked if Miller was referring to the possibility of a military incident in Cyprus, Cassoulides said "this is one more reason to deploy the missiles."
Ankara has threatened to stop the deployment of the S-300s, expected on the island later this year.
The Foreign Minister agreed that the European Union (EU) Cardiff summit in June would lead to further developments in the Cyprus issue, but pointed out that it was unlikely that Turkey would be satisfied, no matter what it is offered in Cardiff.
Cassoulides argued Ankara's stance was a well calculated policy to blame the EU for the deadlock in Cyprus, adding that Turkey was trying to make Europeans feel guilty in order to get what they wanted.
Cassoulides later London for Athens, where he will discuss developments in Cyprus' European accession with Greek government representatives.
 Alarming figures for smoking in schoolsBy Andrea Sophocleous
MORE than three and half per cent of primary school children in Cyprus smoke, according to a recent study, and the figure is much higher among high school and university students.
The results of the study, which was carried out by two University of Cyprus students under the supervision of Professor Eleni Costa and in collaboration with the Cyprus anti-Cancer Society, were announced at yesterday's lauch of International Non-Smoking Day celebrations.
Non-Smoking Day is tomorrow, May 31, but it was observed by the anti-Cancer Society last night with songs and bicycle races at Eleftheria Square.
According to an anti-Cancer Society representative, the study used random samples of 3,337 students from primary schools, gymnasiums, lyceums, technical schools and the University of Cyprus across all income groups and from all areas of Cyprus.
The study confirms that the proportion of students who smoke is high, despite increased government and official attempts to raise awareness about the risks.
The results show that 3.6 per cent of primary school pupils smoke cigarettes; the figure is 16 per cent for gymnasium pupils, 32.8 per cent for lyceum pupils and 54.8 per cent for technical school pupils; 31.7 per cent of University of Cyprus students smoke.
Health Minister Christos Solomis meanwhile, speaking at a separate Press Conference launching International Non-Smoking Day, presented the results of another scientific study of smoking habits in Cyprus, and noted that initial results showed that one in four Cypriots were smokers.
"International Non-Smoking Day," the Minister said, "gives those working for the protection of health the opportunity to reject this harmful habit and to express their decision to fight it until smoking disappears completely from our planet."
He pointed to international studies revealing that 3.5 million people die every year from smoking-related diseases and to the fact that 20 per cent of deaths in developed countries are due to smoking.
The Health Minister said his department would continue to fight smoking through the promotion of anti-smoking programmes already in place in 15 high schools.
He pointed out that only five per cent of smokers took up the habit after the age of 24; anti-smoking education should therefore focus on young people and children.
The minister further announced that government policy would aim to educate and inform people on the harms of smoking, would raise taxes on cigarettes, enforce a complete ban on cigarette advertising and legislate for a smoke- free environment.
 Top ministers to probe English School disputeBy Andrea Sophocleous
A SPECIALLY appointed Ministerial Committee will be set up to look into the background to the bitter dispute at the English School.
The Council of Ministers announced yesterday that it would set up a committee made up of Education Minister Lykourgos Kappas, Finance Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou and Labour and Social Insurance Minister Andreas Moushiouttas to investigate allegations of favouritism and mismanagement at the school.
Antonis Antoniou, president of the English School Staff Association (ESSA), told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that his only wish was for "the ministerial committee to make a quick decision, because we cannot let this crisis continue."
"Life at the school is very difficult at the moment," he explained. "Lots of things that had to be done by the end of May have not been looked at, such as timetables for next year and appointments."
Antoniou said that a demand by the Parents Association and the English School Old Boys and Girls Association (Esobga) that controversial headmaster Thomas Thomas resign at the end of this academic year in August was "a good way out of the deadlock".
The parents and graduates suggested that an acting headmaster take over until an official headmaster could be appointed for September 1999.
This was unacceptable to the school board, which the teachers perceive as backing Thomas.
Teachers have been locked in a standoff with the headmaster over allegations of favouritism in the promotion of a female member of staff and alleged "autocratic" style of management.
Negotiations between the school board, Essa, the Parents Association and Esobga ended in a deadlock on Thursday, and Antoniou said there was "no point" in the negotiations continuing now that a ministerial committee would look into the issue.
 IMC to house government offices?By Martin Hellicar
NICOSIA'S International Merchandising Centre (IMC) building may be bought up by the state to house the Lands & Survey Department, IMC manager Andreas Kaisis confirmed yesterday.
Commenting on reports in the local press yesterday, Kaisis told the Cyprus Mail that, while no deal had been struck, the possibility was being "investigated".
He said the IMC no longer needed a building the size of it's current home, while the department needed to be housed under a single roof.
"The government is in the process of computerising the Lands & Survey department, and as it is currently housed in seven or eight separate buildings, some of them old, this is not efficient," Kaisis said. "The government has spent millions on computerisation and needs a single home (for the department)."
"Experts have looked over the IMC building and have declared it perfect for the department's computerisation needs," Kaisis said.
"Due to circumstances beyond our control, we no longer need as much space," Kaisis said. He said government moves to restrict offshore activity in view of EU accession meant the centre's business was suffering.
The IMC specialises in duty-free shopping and regional wholesale trade. The multi-storey building has a total floor space of 21,000 square metres, and the centre, in Kaisis's estimation, only requires about 8,000 square metres for it's future operations.
Reports suggested the price on the building's head was £8.5 million, but Kaisis shied away from commenting on the matter yesterday.
He said only that the development had cost his company about £12 million, "which the government is well aware of, having supported the project all along."
The company manager said there was no possibility of a "friendly" deal with the government.
 HTI anger at minister's moveSTAFF at the Higher Technical Institute (HTI) staff are to meet next week to decide on what action they will take after Labour Minister Andreas Moushiouttas overturned an academic council decision on the extension of the academic year.
Moushiouttas had earlier proposed that students have a week of extra lessons in order to make up time they had missed due to recent protests.
But at a meeting on Thursday, the minister said he was not bound by the academic council decisions on the matter, after disagreements over specifics led to a breakdown in talks. Student representatives walked out of the meeting in protest.
The institute's staff are now considering a boycott of all HTI academic bodies to mark their anger at the minister's decision.
As well as the extra time, the council had proposed that students be given a second chance to pass exams missed due to strike action in April.
The extra time allowance would also over-ride truancy regulation problems for the picketing students, who under normal circumstances would have forfeited their certificates for taking more than a certain number of days off lessons.
The students have been demanding higher recognition of their graduation diplomas and the creation of a specific public sector post for HTI graduates.
 Cyprus to get cheap grain as US wages subsidy war on EuropeCYPRUS is to reap the benefits of a "barley war" being waged between the EU and the US.
The US Trade Department announced earlier this week it was to subsidise exports of home-grown barley to Norway, Algeria and Cyprus as a counter- measure to the EU subsiding exports of barley from within the community to the US last month.
Thirty thousand tonnes of cheap grain -- mostly destined for animal feed -- are to be sold to the three counties under the US Agriculture Department's (USDA) export enhancement program (EEP).
"The US will use the EEP to respond to the EU's heavily subsidised sale in April of barley to the US," said US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky in a statement in Washington publicised yesterday.
Barshefsky described the EU subsidies as an "ill-considered action" and the EEP subsidies as an "appropriate and necessary response."
"This use of EEP is a measured, targeted response to the EU's recent sale of heavily subsidised barley into the US," said USDA Secretary Dan Glickman added. "Our action today demonstrates how seriously we view the EU sale."
It was not clear yesterday how much barley Cyprus would import from the US under the EEP.
 One man's crusade against the CyBC levyBy Charlie Charalambous
A NICOSIA businessman is ready to take on the CyBC monolith and even spend hard time in prison for refusing to pay the corporation's levy.
Businessman Michael Paul is fighting a one-man crusade against what he sees as the injustice of the CyBC levy, which is based on electricity consumption and not viewing preference.
"I'm not paying those ridiculous sums, it's against my human rights. I have the right to choose my own media," Paul told the Cyprus Mail.
He is upset at having to pay 30 per cent of his electricity bill to CyBC, even though he does not watch public television.
"My bill should not be calculated on how much electricity I use because that has nothing to do with how much TV I watch."
All customers, whether they have a television or not, and including shops and offices, are obliged to pay the CyBC levy that is added to electricity bills and based on consumption averages.
But the electricity authority is not obliged to collect the fee if the customer refuses to pay.
CyBC is ultimately responsible for collecting the levy and threatening legal proceedings against those who refuse to pay.
"I'm willing to go to jail because I'm fed up of being ripped-off by CyBC," said Paul.
However, Paul is ready to pay a fixed license fee and wants the system changed in that direction.
"We the viewing public are being taken for idiots, but I'm prepared to stand up and say enough is enough."
CyBC concede that the present system is not the best, but say it's the only one they've got.
© Copyright Cyprus Mail 1998